Best vest guide to protect front-line police

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The Independent Online
JASON BENNETTO

Crime Correspondent

Help has arrived for police officers unsure about how best to protect themselves against gun-toting and knife-wielding attackers - a consumer guide to stab- and bullet-proof vests.

The initiative follows growing pressure for all front-line officers to be equipped with protective vests after a rise in the number of violent assaults against the police involving knives and guns.

The new police manual examines a wide range of protective clothing. Among the qualities tested are the armour's ability to stop a bullet and knife, the weight of the equipment, the area of the body that is protected, and the cost.

High-powered rifles, handguns, and knives are all pitted against the armour. The Manual of Ballistic and Stab Resistant Body Armour judges whether equipment passes or fails.

The manual, which is being sent to all 43 forces in England and Wales, is an initiative of the Association of Chief Police Officers' self-defence, arrest and restraint sub-committee, which is headed by Tony Burden, chief constable of Gwent. Chief constables are expected to consult the guide before deciding how best to protect their officers.

Calls for universal body protection have increased in the past year as the number of attacks on the police has grown. Despite tests the Home Office and police have failed to find a universally acceptable design. The situation has become so fraught that hundreds of officers have been using second-hand protective equipment donated by police in the United States.

Only two forces, West Yorkshire and Northumbria, - currently supply protective vests to all operational officers. It cost more than pounds 1m to kit the 5,000 West Yorkshire police. Vests cost from pounds 150 to about pounds 350.

In March beat officers from the Metropolitan Police were issued for the first time with body armour that protects against knives and bullets.

Over the last five years, seven Metofficers - including PC Phillip Walters in April 1995 and Sergeant Derek Robertson in 1994 - have been killed on duty.

A survey of 73,000 rank-and- file officers across the country revealed last year that 90 per cent want covert and overt body armour. More than half said armour was not availableBut last year Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, refused to provide any extra money to pay for the vests.

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